Keystone History


Keystone Area Historical Society
410 3rd Street
Keystone, South Dakota 57751

Ph: (605) 666-4494

     Rushmore Carvers

It is safe to say that the majority of the Mount Rushmore workers lived in Keystone during the carving years. Men did not commute long distances to their places of employment and tended to live, therefore, in Keystone. Keystone was a rural community, absent of running water and indoor toilets, as compared to the urban population of Rapid City and other major cities in the Black Hills. Housing was plentiful but a good many of the houses were not very desirable. There were many houses available from the hey days of mining around the turn of the century.

After the Holy Terror Mine ceased operation in June of 1903, Keystone went into a state of depression. It was not until the 1920s that Keystone began to make a comeback with the production of feldspar and other pegmatite minerals such as mica, amblygonite, beryl, lepidolite, and spodumene. During this depression, houses and property became dirt cheap because most of the miners and merchants vacated Keystone. Many of the houses were bought by entrepreneurs for taxes and were rented to the mountain carvers during the carving years.

The houses rented for as little as $5.00 to as much as $15.00 per month. It is perhaps safe to say that some of the workers occupied abandoned shacks without paying any rent to anyone. As a token of their appreciation, they spent a little time fixing up a place for the privilege of having a roof over their heads. Harold “Shorty” Pierce, a winchman for many years at Mt. Rushmore, paid $5.00 a month for a small log cabin with a dirt floor near the Etta Mine for his family of five children.

Most folks did not miss luxury, having never experienced it. It was very common to take a bath once a week in a washtub in the middle of the floor on a Saturday night. Electricity was a luxury which cost $0.15 per kilowatt-hour. The power came from a local mining company which operated a generator driven by a diesel engine. The power was shut down each night at 11:00 pm and residents, therefore, did not have an opportunity to own a refrigerator. It was necessary to store milk and other perishable goods in a fruit cellar dug into the side of a hill or on the floor of a dirt basement. Most folks could not afford to buy ice to maintain their ice boxes. The ice came from local ponds, put up in ice houses and packed in sawdust.

The children of the workers attended school in the Keystone Schoolhouse which is now occupied by the Keystone Historical Museum. Other children attended school at one of the many one-room country schoolhouses scattered throughout the immediate area.

During the carving years, most of the workers did not exactly grasp what they were really creating. It was just a job to survive during the period of hard times. In spite of the hardships and tribulations, each and every Mount Rushmore worker eventually learned to appreciate the significance of the monument and were proud of their accomplishments.

Gutzon Borglum, sculptor of Mount Rushmore, views the carving progress; from a lofty viewpoint.

Sharpening the drill bits, which were then hauled to the top of Mount Rushmore via the cable car pictured above. John Nikels is the blacksmith.

August 1941

Orwell P. Peterson, Ernest “Ernie” Raga, Otto E. “Red” Anderson, Matthew P. Reilly, Able Ray Grover, Norman E. “Happy” Anderson, Joseph August “Joe” Bruner, J. Edwald “Ed” Hayes, Marion Gesford “Mony” Watson, Gustav Louis “Gus” Schram, Earl E. Oaks, Robert “Bob” Himebauagh, Albert Basil “Bake” Canfield, Robert Howard “Bob” Christon, and James Lincoln Borglum.

Front Row:
Jay Fernando Shepard, Alton Parker “Hoot” Leach, Clyde R. “Spot” Denton, Patrick LeRoy “Pat” Bintliff, Ernest Wells “Bill” Reynolds, Gustav R. “Bay” Jurisch, James “Jim” LaRue, Frank J. Maxwell, and John “Johnny” Raga. Seated on the ground is Howard “Howdy” Peterson.

The final crew at Mount Rushmore
posed for a photograph in August of 1941.  Pictured from left to right (first row) Jay Shepard, Alton “Hoot” Leach, Clyde “Spot” Denton, Pat Bintliff, Ernest “Bill” Reynolds, Gustav “Bay” Jurisch, James “Jim” LaRue, Frank Maxwell,and John Raga (second row) Orwell Petersen, Ernest Raga, Otto “Red” Anderson, Matthew “Matt” Reilly, Ray Grover. Norman “Happy, Hap” Anderson, Joseph “Joe” Bruner, Edwald “Ed” Hayes, Marion “Mony” Watson, Gustav “Gus” Schramm, Earl Oaks, Robert “Bob” Himebaugh, Basil “Bake” Canfield, Robert “Bob” Christon, and Lincoln Borglum.